BOCA RATON, Fla. – For the Marshall football team this season, if it's been close, it hasn't been pretty.
Entering Saturday's game at Florida Atlantic University, the Thundering Herd had won three games by an average of 39 points and lost two by an average of 5.5. One couldn't really categorize the Herd's win over FAU as pretty – until the very end.
Marshall's struggling offense pulled together for a nine-play, 67-yard drive with 2:06 remaining, and Justin Haig drilled a 41-yard field goal with time running out to erase what had been a nine-point deficit and give the Herd a 24-23 win and a 2-0 Conference USA start for the first time since 2008.
"That's the story of that football team in there right now for three years," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "For three years, we didn't find a way to (win close games). I'm really so proud of the way they fought and scratched and at the end of the day, we found a way to win the game."
The Herd's (4-2, 2-0 C-USA) game-winning drive started out a bit inauspiciously, after Rakeem Cato ended a 20-yard scramble with an illegal forward pass he thought was a lateral. But the drive stayed alive and got its biggest boost when Cato lofted a jump-ball to 5-foot-7 senior receiver Devon Smith, who beat 5-11 corner Cre'von LeBlanc for a 35-yard gain to FAU 26. From there, the Herd set up for Haig's game-winning field goal.
It was a bit of vindication for Haig, who graduated from American Heritage High School in nearby Delray Beach. Two games ago against Virginia Tech, Haig missed one field goal in regulation and had a potential game-winner blocked in the first overtime, as the Hokies escaped with a triple-overtime win. Saturday night's 41-yarder was his third straight field goal and longest of the season.
FAU Coach Carl Pelini tried everything he could to ice Haig on the kick, calling back-to-back time outs.
"I just focused on staying concentrated, really," Haig said. "I just went through my steps, tried to stay lose and that's about it. It personally doesn't bother me. It allows me to gather everything. I'm not in a rush. It allows me to stay lose, focus and concentrate on the kick."